June 2, 2021

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Presents Second in Concert Film Series

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra continued its “Emerge” concert series this past week with an on-demand film of a live performance recorded this past February at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The “Emerge” trilogy, directed by filmmaker Yuri Alves, has fused orchestral performances with visual meditations and dance sequences to create a multi-media online experience. The second performance of this trilogy, launched last Wednesday evening, featured pianist Inon Barnatan playing Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement; also included on the program was one of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final symphonies. Accompanying these works was a New Jersey Symphony Orchestra seemingly up to full strength, led by Music Director Xian Zhang.

Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement was premiered in Chicago in 1934 with the composer as soloist. The work appears to have fallen into obscurity following its premiere, with the orchestral score later reconstructed. The Concerto’s three continuous sections hark back to the Romantic style of Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn, and in NJSO’s performance, the work showed plenty of Romantic and improvisatory flavor. With Zhang on the podium and Barnatan at the keyboard, the music of was very dramatic, with Barnatan’s left hand a constant swirl of flowing arpeggios. Zhang conducted with broad gestures, allowing repeated passages to become more intense with each recurrence. The second section of the movement was marked by an elegant oboe solo from Alexandra Knoll in duet with the piano, with a great deal of lushness from just these two instruments. Barnatan’s piano solo seemed to be in duet with various instruments, gradually speeding up toward a very jazzy third movement capturing a 1920s feel. Visually accompanying this piece, which was filmed in black and white, were dance sequences from guest dancers Cori Barnes and M.A. Taylor.

Mozart’s 1788 Symphony No. 39 in Eb Major was one of a trilogy of symphonies the composer wrote within a few years of his death. The circumstances of the symphony’s composition are unknown, and it is has not been established definitively that it was performed in Mozart’s lifetime. The first movement was textbook late 18th-century, paying homage to Mozart’s mentor Franz Joseph Haydn, followed by a conventional “Andante,” “Menuetto,” and “Finale.” The musicians of New Jersey Symphony presented the opening “Adagio” regally, with clean dotted rhythms recalling the Baroque French overture. The subsequent “Allegro” was light and chamber-like with detached playing, delicate winds, and Zhang allowing the music to glide along on its own. The players leaned into the movement well, emphasizing the graceful melodic themes. Delicate lines were evident in the second movement, as Zhang maintained a fluid orchestral palette. One could hear a traditional Ländler in the third movement, with a “Trio” effectively led by clarinetist Pascal Archer. The “Finale” demonstrated clean playing from the brass, and the movement showed hints of 18th-century musical humor.

Previous online concerts by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra have featured a reduced ensemble playing a number of shorter pieces. The “Emerge” series highlights the ensemble’s return to full strength and presentation of more substantial works. Pianist Barnatan has been heard in several regional online orchestral broadcasts over the past year, and his participation in last week’s NJSO concert demonstrated his commitment to helping ensembles present the highest quality performances possible in these times. Even when limited to audience-less halls and a slow return to a full roster, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has been able to maintain innovation and musical quality through the multi-media “Emerge” series.

New Jersey Symphony will present the third and final concert of the online “Emerge” series on Wednesday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m. Featured in this broadcast will be guest pianist Daniil Trifonov performing Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, conducted by Xian Zhang. Information about accessing any of NJSO’s online performances, as well as live concerts this summer, can be found at the NJSO website at njsymphony.org.